The news that the much-needed restoration project of Fort Ricasoli in Kalkara was given the green light by the Planning Authority earlier this month has been applauded by various entities and NGOs even though some have expressed concern as regards the interventions needed, eventual use of the premises and maintenance costs.

The fort has been in a dire state of deterioration for years, with sections of its outer bastions already having crashed into the sea, and heritage experts warning that further collapse was inevitable without immediate intervention. 

The planned restoration works include cleaning and reconstruction of missing sections of the limestone fabric, restoration of deteriorated masonry and collapsed structures, and structural consolidation.

Fort Ricasoli continues to be damaged by wave action.Fort Ricasoli continues to be damaged by wave action.

The heritage group Assoċjazzoni Wirt il-Kalkara believes this is “a very positive step” and hopes that a concrete and long-running conservation plan for this historical site will now be put into action. 

“The fort has been neglected for far too long, to the detriment not only of the structure but also the rock face below it,” the NGO’s secretary Duncan Brincat told Times of Malta.

The group, which last year estimated it would take €50 million worth of emergency works to ensure the fort’s survival, added that it was recently informed that preliminary works augur well for the success of the conservation process.

Mario Farrugia, chairman of Fondazzjoni Wirt Artna, was equally delighted with the news, saying “it is a step in the right direction”, however, he sounded a note of caution.

“There are various considerations to make, especially the kind of intervention required. Are they going to place wave breakers? Because it is useless restoring the structure if it continues to be damaged by wave action,” he said.

A report drawn up by the Restoration Directorate as part of the planning process noted that the deterioration had largely been caused by the rough seas as salt contamination had further attacked masonry elements and rock outcrops. 

Extensive rust damage was found on steel structural elements and further damage had been caused by algae and vegetation.

The fort has been neglected for far too long

Mr Farrugia also noted that it makes sense to preserve “all layers of history”, not only the structures related to the Knights of St John.

“The fort was also important in Napoleonic and British times… all elements should be retained and valorised,” he said.

Mr Farrugia expressed concern about the fort’s use once it is restored and stressed that it would need a good management plan.

Flimkien għal Ambjent Aħjar called the restoration plan “a major investment”.

“The fort’s colourful history, including the Froberg Mutiny of 1870, the most serious mutiny of the Napoleonic Wars, will attract many visitors but it is unlikely that it will be enough to finance ongoing maintenance in years to come,” Astrid Vella, the NGO’s coordinator, said.

Ms Vella reminded that the FAA had lobbied for Fort Ricasoli to be restored by the American University of Malta as its campus and questioned why the Film Restoration Fun financed by productions filmed in Malta had been dropped.

“Given that Gladiator, Troy and Agora were all filmed at Fort Ricasoli, plus its proximity to Malta’s film facilities, a film institute including a film archive and tours could be considered to make the site sustainable,” Ms Vella continued.

“Such initiatives come at a cost but, in the long term, these costs will benefit the fort, its historic legacy, the film industry and the Maltese nation.”

Designed by Italian military engineer Antonio Maurizio Valperga, the fort was built between 1670 and 1698 on a promontory known as Gallows Point, commanding the entrance to Grand Harbour. Over the centuries, it was occupied and added to by the Knights of St John, the French and, finally, the British army and Royal Navy, before being decommissioned in the 1960s. 

Since then it has been used for industry and as a film location, including for Gladiator and Game of Thrones. 

It is a Grade 1 scheduled national monument and has been on the tentative list of Unesco World Heritage Sites since 1998.